How parents of disabled children face multiple challenges while flexwork could be a win-win answer

“Where there’s a will there’s a way”, a famous proverb says. But is this true for parents of disabled children who want to return to work? A survey recently published by Working Families, a work-life organisation in the UK, suggests – sadly enough – the very opposite.

88% of unemployed parents of disabled children express a strong desire to return to work, according to the survey of over 900 parents. The research also found that two thirds of parents in work had declined promotion or accepted demotion to balance care and work responsibilities. The new findings replicate those of the 2012 Working Families report „Finding Flexibility“ and once again illustrate both the extent to which such parents value the opportunity to work – for both economic and other reasons – and the enormous challenge they face in combining their particularly demanding care responsibilities and their paid work.

Almost four out of ten parents had given up work more than six years ago, making their return to the labour market much more difficult. The unemployment of so many parents of disabled children and the underemployment of so many more sees workplaces losing out on a whole range of skills and talent. Gaps in work history, lost or outdated skills and lowered confidence all describe parents’ difficulties.

Of the parents who are currently not in work 79% felt that they had no choice but to give up work at or very soon after the diagnosis of their child. This common all or nothing scenario could be avoided by allowing parents the chance to adjust their work arrangements to a change in their caring responsibilities.

And whilst there remains an acute shortage of quality, part-time or otherwise flexible vacancies, especially at intermediate level, parents of disabled children will struggle to return or remain in employment. 77 per cent of out of work parents agreed that finding a job with the right number of hours was a major barrier to returning to work whilst 87 per cent stated that finding a job with the right pattern of work was also a major barrier.

The great majority of in-work parents described finding suitable and affordable childcare as ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible’. There is a significant lack of specialist childcare capable of meeting the sometimes complex needs of disabled children. Even where it is available it is often significantly more expensive than that for non-disabled children. Almost one in three of in-work parents who pay for childcare are paying more than £10 per hour – more than twice the British national average cost per hour.

Companies can make it a lot easier for parents of disabled children to manage the balancing act between their childcare responsibilities and their work, and may even benefit from doing so. Companies won’t have to cover replacements costs and will profit from more committed employees with their whole range of unique skills and talent. Furthermore, introducing or expanding flexible working models will not only help people with (disabled) children but is advantageous for all employees. Various examples showcased by the AXA FlexWork campaign illustrate this aspect.

The research survey was available to complete online, and a paper version was available on request. It was open to any parent with one or more disabled children or young people under 25 in their family, and ran from 1 May to 31 October 2014. The survey questionnaire included open-ended and multiple-choice questions.


The full report can be downloaded from